Arusha — Agriculture will now be placed as number one engine of economic growth in the East African Community (EAC) integration process.
This follows last week's signing of the EAC Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Compact.
"The Compact is designed to facilitate coordination of regional and cross cutting programmes that complement agricultural programmes and projects at national and regional levels," said the EAC deputy secretary general (Productive and Social Sectors) Christophe Bazivamo.
He said after the signing ceremony at the EAC headquarters that the process of developing the EAC-CAADP Compact has been lengthy, inclusive and consultative and that the partner states should embrace it.
The programme details regional development priorities and defines actions, commitments and partnerships required to achieve agricultural transformation in line with the CAADP goals and targets.
Uganda's Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Mr Ssempijja Bamulangaki, reaffirmed the EAC Partner States' commitment to transforming agriculture for inclusive economic growth in the region.
"Over the years, efforts have been put in different sectors of integration such as infrastructure. It is now time that we assert ourselves, move with greater speed and ensure we take agriculture to the lead," the minister said.
CAADP's overall goal is to use agriculture to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty in Africa.
Through the CAADP agenda, African governments have agreed to increase public investment in agriculture to ten per cent of national budgets per year and to raise and maintain agricultural productivity and annual growth by at least six per cent.
With the vision of "A Competitive and prosperous agriculture sector in East Africa," the EAC CAADP Compact priorities focus on considerations for accelerating agricultural growth and transformation.
These are to target increased agriculture production and productivity; increased intra African regional trade and better functioning of national and regional markets and expanded local agro-industry and value chain development inclusive of women and youth.
Other areas are increased resilience of livelihoods and improved management of risks in agricultural sector; and improved management of natural resources for sustainable agriculture.
The priority and focus areas in the EAC Compact include sustainable natural resource use and management; rural infrastructure, ICT and trade-related capacities for improved market access; food supply and reducing hunger.
Others are agricultural research, technology dissemination and adoption; enhancing resilience of livelihoods and production systems and Management of Risks; institutional and financial Strengthening; and cross cutting issues.
Although considered the backbone of the economies of the EAC states, the agricultural sector is constrained by a number of constraints and challenges, among them being natural factors, weak policies and failure to adopt the appropriate technologies.
Policy makers say the constraints have inhibited the rural economy's potential to alleviate poverty through employment creation and income generation as well as meeting the growing food needs.
Despite the challenges, EA has a significant irrigation potential that remains unexploited. For instance, irrigation is seen to have an important role in increasing agricultural productivity.
The Compact was signed by the EAC Partner States, the EAC Secretariat, and the Inter- University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the East Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) and the East African Business Council (EABC).
Also present were officials of, the East Africa Civil Society Organisations' Forum (EACSOF), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).